It’s been a long summer. Recent life changes — divorce, moving and all the attendant logistical challenges — have put the squeeze on my wallet, so much so that I can’t afford even my customary week in Ocean City, Md. Those circumstances have put the squeeze on my calendar, too. As a selfemployed, full-time freelancer, I am all-too aware that time spent on vacation is time spent not earning money.
Compounding my misery has been an apparent lack of company: From the Facebook looks of things, everyone but me is off cavorting on some sun-andcocktail-drenched shore or shooting selfies in front of the Mona Lisa.
Of course, as a longtime yogi, I know that envy isn’t the most enlightened response to my friends’ sunnier fortunes. So, instead of indulging in a summer-long pity party, I decided to find an alternate route. No, I can’t afford a vacation, or a daycation, or even one of those staycations I’ve heard so much about. But darned if I won’t make a point of taking something I’ve come to call a “naycation.”
A naycation, as I define it, involves capturing as much summertime spirit as possible without spending much money — and without taking time off work. That means getting creative about how I use my evenings and weekends.
I’m all about getting creative. But somehow, I couldn’t quite get started; I think I was still feeling too sorry for myself to think outside that woe-is-me mind-set. So, I hopped on Facebook and asked my friends for advice.
The comments came fast. I was surprised and, I must say, gratified to see that I had lots of company, after all. All that was missing, I found, was the misery.
Merely breaking from routine can set the stage for relaxation. “Stay off your phone!“ says Randa Khairallah Gaalswijk of Granby, Conn. “No email, no checking in!”
And even a slight shift in location does a body good. “Some change of scenery and perspective would be the main thing, even if it’s a short walk in a local park, or an hour or two at a nearby museum,” says Pickerington, Ohio, resident Mary Scott Wiecek.
That change of scenery can happen right in your own home. “I set my bathroom up so it feels like a spa,” says Susan A. Elwood of Gordon, Ga. “Buy the most luxurious towels you can afford (I bought some great Turkish towels that are large and cozy). Then buy one of those bathtub trays that go across the tub — I got a bamboo one — and stock yourself with some bath oils and body washes that make you smile when you smell them.”
But College Park’s Patricia Anne Noone shares perhaps my favorite variation on this theme: “I took a pet-sitting gig for a friend more fortunate in that regard, so I have two weeks in someone else’s house, enjoying a sense of solitude, peace, meditation. . . . My husband and kid will come to visit me regularly, and we’ll have game night on the patio! Plus, I get paid for it.”
The guilty pleasure of doing something fun while others are at work can add luster to naycation experiences. New Yorker Jill Weiner likes “going to movies in the late morning,” while Gaithersburg, Md., resident Pete Cottrell delights in seeing day baseball games. “These days, there’s usually only a few opportunities each summer,” he says. “Chillin’ in the stands for a few hours is great, and knowing that most of the world is at work adds to it.”
Incorporating experiences associated specifically with vacation memories can help you get into naycation mode. If you typically load up on new magazines or trashy novels to read on the beach, do the same at home. Only eat Doritos within 20 yards of the ocean? Let yourself off the hook just this once. “We often do a jigsaw puzzle on vacation to the Cape,” says Lisa Hoopes Beede of West Hartford, Conn. “This year, I set up a puzzle to work on at home to make it feel like vacation.”
But you can’t get much simpler than Baltimorean Mary Jo Slowey’s scheme for getting that vacation groove going: “I switch out my regular lotion with Coppertone,” she says.
Indeed, summer-specific sensory experiences were a common denominator in the suggestions I got. I figured there must be other essentials, so, I contacted Andrea Savitch, a travel advisor based in Dumfries, Va., who specializes in custom-designed “dream weekends.”
“In this market,” Savitch said, “it’s more about time than money. People won’t take the time they should.”
Savitch described the process by which she determines what kind of experience will satisfy a time-crunched client. She starts with an interview, asking about things such as hobbies, favorite foods and drinks, reading and TV-viewing habits, favorite charities and how spare time typically is used (what little of it there is). Then she goes a-Googling to craft a plan, researching potential nearby, low-cost destinations based on clients’ answers. Other key considerations: How mobile are you? What kind of transportation do you have access to? If you have kids or pets, who will watch them in your brief absence?
“Once you’ve asked all the basic questions, you’ve massaged the brain so the answers come more easily,” Savitch says.
Savitch cautions, “Research based on interests, not necessarily what’s happening in general this weekend.” Those events you see listed in the calendar section “might not relate to what really calls out to you.”
Savitch says it’s also important to commit to a date — and to not wait till the last minute, because many events you might be counting on may sell out — or become more expensive as the date draws near.
Savitch charges a $250 fee for her services. But my budget’s too meager for that. So tonight, after I file this story, I’m going to ask myself some questions, really listen to my own answers and hop on the laptop to start laying some plans for the last few weeks of summer.
Once I’ve done that legwork? Naycation, here I come!
Just don’t expect a postcard.
I am smart enough to know that vacation envy is probably not the best way to shape my feelings about other people’s summertime adventures. Leslie Connor, a psychologist practicing in Wilmington, Del., confirms that. “There’s probably a form of recognizing your own feelings that’s more positive than self-pity,” she says, “and that’s empathy. I would not pity you, and you should not pity yourself.”
“Either one just makes you feel worse,” she says: “Poor me.” Self-pity, she says, “gives you no sense of being able to do anything. It’s disempowering.”
“Envy can be a signal to make us reevaluate our home front,” she says. “Or it can be a cloud that darkens things instead of inspiring.”
When faced with a barrage of social media vacation postings, Connor suggests: “Remember that it’s not a zero-sum game. If friends have a good time, it doesn’t block your being happy. If you strictly look through the lens of envy, you’ll always be on a seesaw, where they’re up and you’re down. In adult life, it doesn’t pay to focus on that.”
Connor also reminds us not to be daunted by “Facebragging.” Remind yourself, she says, “I may be having a smaller vacation than you, but that doesn’t tell me anything about you — and it doesn’t make me feel insecure. If people’s ego is involved, they have something to prove, and that can be a little contagious. That comes more out of a sense of inadequacy than strength. See it for what it is. You don’t have to brag if you’re secure.”
LaRue is a freelance writer and director of writing programs at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, Conn.
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